The city of Winnipeg is home to one of the largest urban population of indigenous
peoples, including Aboriginal, Metis, and Inuit. Death is a significant experience
in native cultures, and is considered a fundamental rite of passage. It is a time to
evolve into a world of spirits, communicate with ancestors, settle differences and make
peace – it should not be feared. These ideals are different than mainstream
opinions surrounding death, and for that reason should not be subjected to conventional
In 1991, Tony Kozak, along with his wife Ruth, recognized
the importance and need for the Aboriginal culture to be able to practice their
death customs. They created a unique facility where Natives could observe their
traditions in the city, called the Aboriginal Funeral Chapel, which is located
in the heart of the North End of Winnipeg, at 724 Selkirk Avenue.
This facility is open 24 hours per day, and it is notAs this facility was well received by the community, and the
uncommon to see the lights on and people outside late at night, and even all
hours of the morning, as wakes are held until midnight, and traditional wakes
are held throughout the night right up until the time of the funeral
service. There is also a kitchen and
reception room which Tony and Ruth encouraged families to use – they are able
to bring their own food and have a traditional feast. The reception room also
doubles as an overflow area for the chapel during particularly busy services.
pace of business was more than on track of the initial prediction, it was time
to make some renovations to the building to better accommodate the families
they served. In the late 1990’s
the building was renovated. Some of the new features include
a brand new reception room & kitchen area, a larger arrangement office, and
new preparation facilities.
At the time of the funeral chapel’s inception, Manitoba was home to
just over 60 First Nations bands. Not only did Tony serve the native community
in Winnipeg, but
was able to provide services to many of these bands as well. If the deceased
was a First Nations member, there would typically be a wake or prayer service
for one night at the Funeral Chapel here in the city, and then the deceased
would be transported to the reserve, where the more traditional all night wake
would take place for the next two days, followed by the funeral service, and
interment at a sacred burial ground. This allows the members of the band to
practice their more traditional death rituals in addition to the all night wakes,
for example the burning of sacred fire, and preparation of traditional funeral
garments for the deceased. The chapel’s clientele also expanded from
Winnipeg and Manitoba based communities to include First Nations Bands
in Saskatchewan and Ontario.
In Aboriginal Funeral Chapel’s twentieth year of service, Tony
and Ruth decided that it was time to retire, and find a new owner who would
carry on the same level of commitment to the native community. In June of 2005,
Peter Kilcollins became the new owner and managing director of Aboriginal Funeral Chapel,
along with the Select Network of Independent Community FuneralAn active member in the community, Peter is a member of the
Homes. Peter brings with him over 25
years of funeral service experience, working originally in New Brunswick, and
then Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, and is a third generation
funeral director. The Select Network is an organization which provides
assistance in securing financing, purchase, and management of funeral homes for
independent directors. Select is a family owned firm from New Brunswick with
over thirty five years experience, and has affiliates across Canada and the
Selkirk Avenue Biz, serves on the executive board at the Southwood Golf &
Country Club, is a past president of the Kiwanis Club of St. James, and also of
the Kiwanis Courts and Lodge, where he served three terms, from 2001 to 2004.
When time allows, he is an avid hockey player and golfer, along with his wife
Diane, who in addition to her full time job, takes on a part time role in the
operation of the funeral chapel.
In addition to Peter and Diane, the staff is made up of three part time staff members; Harry Jackson,
Ellen Ewonchuk, Glenn Kennedy funeral director/embalmer apprentice Lisa Holgate .
Together, they are dedicated to maintaining the high level of service that the first nations
and metis communities have come to expect.
Many of the families we serve are in Winnipeg because their loved one has been
flown in to a hospital from another community and has died. They are away from
the comfort of their own home, the support of family, community members, and
traditions. Here at Aboriginal Funeral Chapel, we strive to provide families
from Winnipeg and surrounding communities with a relaxed atmosphere and the flexibility to
attune services to their specific cultural and traditional needs. Understanding
the importance of music and song in native culture, we are able to provide
guitars for families to use, as well encourage families to bring drums, or
other instruments. We recognize that smudging is important in native tradition,
as it believed to cleanse feelings and thoughts of negativity. When families wish
to partake in this ritual, we are able provide them with a smudge bowl and the
traditional herbs of sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, and cedar. We understand the
need for traditional symbolism within the aboriginal culture, and have special ordered
a traditional aboriginal casket, as well as other traditional items such as star blankets,
and medicine wheel casket panels, to help meet the customary needs of the
families that we serve.
We are able to provide everything a family may require when
faced with making funeral arrangements. We have a wide selection of burial
clothing available, including suits, tuxedos, and hand made white dresses. The clothing
we offer is available for all ages, including the tiniest of preemie babies. We
have a very large selection of flowers for families to choose from in our
selection room as well. We have casket sprays with matching upright selections,
hearts, crosses, wreath, and vase arrangements for families to choose from, as
well as a wide variety of personalization and memorial items. It is our goal to be
able to make things as seamless and effortless as possible for all of the families
we serve at such a stressful time in their lives.
In its 20th year, Aboriginal Funeral Chapel remains the industry leader
in providing the unique services to the aboriginal and metis communities that we serve.
Their customs and beliefs on death are not mainstream, and we do not believe in
subjecting these communities to mainstream funeral practices – instead, we focus
on tradition and culture, and allow families the freedom to practice these rituals so that
they can celebrate death according to their cultures and beliefs.